Stephen Walt is a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar.
March 2018 – Despite rhetoric suggesting a radical “America first” departure from decades of U.S. global relations, President Donald Trump largely is being co-opted by the foreign policy establishment, according to a preeminent scholar and expert who spoke at Drew University.
Stephen Walt, the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, is considered a realist in foreign policy and has questioned the policies of the past three U.S. presidents as they pursued nation building abroad.
Walt, a resident associate of the Carnegie Foundation for Peace and guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, was a guest of the Visiting Scholars Program of Drew’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and the Janet T. Siler International Affairs Forum. He spent two days on campus with students and faculty before delivering a talk at The Concert Hall and answering questions from the audience.
Walt, who’s also a contributing editor at Foreign Policy, was introduced by Drew Professor Phil Mundo, his classmate in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. On the macro issue of where U.S. foreign policy is headed, Walt had much to say. Here are five key points.
Despite overall improvements in the human condition, “the world we live in today is a lot worse than we all expected when the Cold War ended” in the early 1990s, Walt said. Back then, democracy was spreading; today it’s in retreat, according to Walt. There are more nuclear states, America’s relationship with other superpowers has deteriorated and the U.S. is still fighting in a half-dozen countries “with no end in sight,” he added.
U.S. foreign policy is “fundamentally flawed” with its emphasis on a “liberal hegemony” in spreading democracy and markets internationally through failed strategies such as military intervention and forced regime change, which often sow chaos, not stability and enlightened democracy, Walt said.
The United States continues to downgrade diplomacy at a time when Walt thinks it’s sorely needed. Trump has accelerated the backward trend with maneuvers like shrinking the Department of State and exiting the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The U.S. could remove its forces from Europe—where the European Union and NATO are capable of providing adequate defense—and instead focus on coalition building in developing regions like Asia, where China is emerging as a dominant power, according to Walt.
Militarism should be de-emphasized, Walt asserted. “Peace is in America’s interest and our leaders shouldn’t hesitate to say so.”